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plausible hint that occurs to us! Hardly a day passes, when many such do not occur to ourselves, or are suggested by others : and detached and insulated, as they may appear at present, some of them may perhaps afterwards, at the distance of years, furnish the key-stone of an important system.
But it is not only in this point of view that the philosopher derives advantage from the practice of writing. Without its assistance, he could seldom be able to advance beyond those simple elementary truths which are current in the world, and which form, in the various branches of science, the established creed of the age he lives in. How inconsiderable would have been the progress of mathematicians, in their more abstruse speculations, without the aid of the algebraical notation; and to what sublime discoveries have they been led by this beautiful contrivance, which, by relieving the memory of the effort neces. fary for recollecting the steps of a long investigation, has enabled them to prosecute an infinite variety of inquiries, to which the unaffifted powers of the human mind would have been altogether unequal! In the other sciences, it is true, we have seldom or never occasion to follow out such long chains of consequences as in mathematics ; but in these sciences, if the chain of investigation be shorter, it is far more difficult to make the transition from one link to another; and it is only by dwelling long on our ideas, and rendering them perfectly familiar to us, that such transitions can, in most instances, be made with safe. ty. In morals and politics, when we advance a step beyond those elementary truths which are daily pre4
sented to us in books or conversation, there is no method of rendering our conclusions familiar to us, but by committing them to writing, and making them frequently the subjects of our meditation. When we have once done so, these con. clusions become elementary truths with respect to us; and we may advance from them with confidence to others which are more remote, and which are far beyond the reach of vulgar discovery. By following such a plan, we can hardly fail to have our industry rewarded in due time by some important im. provement; and it is only by such a plan that we can reasonably hope to extend considerably the boun. daries of human knowledge. I do not say that these habits of study are equally favourable to brilliancy of conversation. On the contrary, I believe that those men who possess this accomplishment in the highest degree, are such as do not advance beyond elementary truths; or rather, perhaps, who advance only a single step beyond them; that is, who think a little more deeply than the vulgar, but whose conclusions are not so far removed from common opinions, as to render it necessary for them, when called upon to defend them, to exhaust the patience of their hearers, by stating a long train of intermediate ideas. They who have pushed their inquiries much farther than the common systems of their times, and have ren. dered familiar to their own minds the intermediate steps by which they have been led to their conclu. fions, are too apt to conceive other men to be in the fame situation with themselves; and when they mean to instruct, are mortified to find that they are only
regarded as paradoxical and visionary. It is but rarely we find a man of very fplendid and various conversation to be possessed of a profound judgment, or of great originality of genius.
Nor is it merely to the philosopher, who wishes to distinguish himself by his discoveries, that writing affords an useful instrument of study. Important aslistance may be derived from it by all those who wish to impress on their minds the investigations which occur to them in the course of their reading; for although writing may weaken (as I already acknowledged it does) a memory for detached observations, or for insulated facts, it will be found the only effectual method of fixing in it permanently, those acquisitions which involve long processes of reasoning.
When we are employed in inquiries of our own, the conclusions which we form make a much deeper and more lasting impression on the memory, than any knowledge which we imbibe passively from another.
This is undoubtedly owing, in part, to the effect which the ardour of discovery has, in rousing the activity of the mind, and in fixing its attention ; but I apprehend it is chiefly to be ascribed to this, that when we follow out a train of thinking of our own, our ideas are arranged in that order which is most agreeable to our prevailing habits of association. The only method of putting our acquired knowledge on a level, in this respect, with our original speculations, is, after making ourselves acquainted with our author's ideas, to study the subject over again in our own way; to pause, from time to time, in the course of our reading, in order to consider what we have gained ; to recollect what the
propofitions are, which the author wishes to establish, and to examine the different proofs which he employs to support them. In making such an experiment, we commonly find, that the different steps of the process arrange themselves in our minds, in a manner different from that in which the author has stated them; and that, while his argument seems, in some places, obscure, from its contiseness; it is tedious in others, from being unnecessarily expanded. When we have reduced the reasoning to that form, which appears to ourselves to be the most natural and satisfactory, we may conclude with certainty, not that this form is better in itself than another, but that it is the best adapted to our memory. Such reasonings, therefore, as we have occasion frequently to apply, either in the business of life, or in the course of our studies, it is of importance to us to commit to writing, in a language and in an order of our own ; and if, at any time, we find it necessary to refresh our recollection on the subject, to have recourse to our own composition, in preference to that of any other author. .
That the plan of reading which is commonly fol. lowed is very different from that which I have been recommending, will not be disputed. Most people read merely to pass an idle hour, or to please them. selves with the idea of employment, while their indolence prevents them from any active exertion ; and a considerable number with a view to the display which they are afterwards to make of their literary acquisitions. From whichsoever of these motives a person is led to the perusal of books, it is hardly possible that he can derive from them any material advantage. If he
reads merely from indolence, the ideas which pass through his mind will probably leave little or no impres. fion; and if he reads from vanity, he will be more anxious to select striking particulars in the inatter or expression, than to seize the spirit and scope of the author's reasoning, or to examine how far he has made any additions to the stock of useful and folid knowledge. “ Though it is scarce possible,” says Dr. Butler *,“ to “ avoid judging, in some way or other, of almost every
thing which offers itself to one's thoughts, yet it is “ certain, that many persons, from different causes, “ never exercise their judgment upon what comes be“ fore them, in such a manner as to be able to deter“ mine how far it be conclusive. They are perhaps “ entertained with some things, not so with others ; " they like, and they dislike; but whether that which " is proposed to be made out, be really made out or
whether a matter be stated according to the - real truth of the case, seems, to the generality of
people, a circumstance of little or no importance. “ Arguments are often wanted for some accidental
pur« pose; but proof, as such, is what they never want, “ for their own fatisfaction of mind, or condu& in " life. Not to mention the multitudes who read mere“ ly for the sake of talking, or to qualify themselves
for the world, or some such kind of reasons; there
are even of the few who read for their own enter“ tainment, and have a real curiosity to see what is " said, several, which is astonishing, who have no sort " of curiosity to see what is true: I say curiofity, be.
* See the Preface to his Sermons.